I happened to be cleaning out my coat closet recently. Actually, I was digging around for something I knew had to be in there, and that turned into a cleaning project, which then devolved into another "Ugh! I'll do it later" project when I realized just how much crap was in there. Anyway, point is, in the closet were these silver candle sticks belonging to my father. Tarnished and partially broken candle sticks.
The history of the candle sticks isn't as interesting as I imagined it would be when my father insisted I go all the way back to his house in the middle of no-where and search for them. About 5 years ago, we cleaned out my dad's house as he was ready to move to CT for a new adventure. A lot was left - pieces of our childhood like trophies, plaques, books, toys. My father is what they call a "hoarder" (among other DSM titles). He keeps everything. He finds things - on the road, outside "give away" bins, Flea Markets - and he keeps them because "someone could use this."
"This is a great piece of chain. A farmer would really appreciate this," was his reply to the question: "dad, why is there a rusty chain on the floor in the living room?"
But the fact that he was so adamant that I find these silver candlesticks that were in his family for years led me to believe they had value, both monetary and sentimental. Plus, my father had very little from his parents. I never knew his father and his mother, my grandma Lillian, passed away when I was 3 years old. His family history has always been a bit of a mystery since he was an only child.
I recovered the candle sticks, which were exactly where he described they would be - in his front coat closet, wrapped in newspaper in a Bloomingdale's shopping bag. Both the papers and the bag were probably from 1974 and were appropriately deteriorating. I called my father to alert him to my success and to find out what I should do with the candle sticks. He told me I should keep them, but I might want to polish them since they are so old. It just so happened that I had silver polish so I was ready for this restoration project, honored that my father chose to pass these family heirlooms to me. I carefully unwrapped the candlesticks. For silver, they seemed rather lightweight. As I inspected these relics of family history, I recognized there are some missing pieces to their story. So I got back on the phone with my father.
Now in fairness, I assumed the importance of and story behind these candlesticks since my dad kept nagging me about recovering them. Accordingly, I was surprised by the fact that the only significance of these dusty, rusty candlesticks was my dad liked them. Some family member had given them to his mother as a hostess gift probably in the 1950's and he just liked them. They reminded him of life in the Bronx and in his family home in Lake Hiawatha, NJ. That's it.
I assumed these were "Holocaust candlesticks," carried through Hungary or Austria by someone in our family as they escaped the Nazis and certain death, and then passed along to my grandmother. Pure silver and the only thing of value our family could carry with them as they came to America. Nope. Just cheap, silver-plated decorations. And now, I have them in my front closet. (with everything else...)
Thinking about those candlesticks and the stuff we keep, I had a great conversation with one of my oldest and dearest friends (and he will certainly remind me that I am older than him, but we have known each other since the first day of Rutgers Freshman Orientation in August 1994 and managed to come in and out of each other's lives since then). I asked the question: "Aside from people and pets, your house is on fire, what do you grab?" My answer was my baby blanket from my grandfather because it's my favorite thing.
The question led to a side conversation about favorite childhood things and my friend offered that he recently reclaimed his Fisher Price record player from his parents' house. His family is very talented, very musical and some of his fondest memories were listening to records on the beige and white record player. I had one and I remembered exactly what it looked like. I recalled singing and dancing in my bedroom for hours to my records. Perhaps between the ages of 4-6, the record I listened to most was the one pictured above - the Original Cast Recording of Sesame Street. I knew all the words to all the songs on both the A and B sides.
And that brings me back to my dad's house: when it was time to check to make sure all the most important things were either claimed by him, my sisters or me, or appropriately stored or discarded, I went back to the house and grabbed this record. I left the trophies, the plaques, the accomplishments. I left books and even photos. I took my first memory of "performing" for an "audience." I would build a stage in my room out of wooden blocks and line up my stuffed animal audience to watch me. I would sing and dance for them for hours, turning the record over and over and replaying the songs.
There were a lot of difficult and even terrible memories in that house. A LOT. Throughout my life, I turned to writing and music to drown out the horrible things and celebrate the beautiful things and I still do that. My Sesame Street record reminded me only of good memories. I bought a record player and surprised myself that I still knew the words to most of the songs (can't find my keys or cell phone that were in my hands five seconds ago, but song lyrics from 1980, those I got...)
I shared my record with my daughter, who was not nearly as interested as I imagined she would be. When she is a little older, I will explain to her why this very old thing was so important to me and maybe, just maybe she will keep it along with grandpa's candle sticks.